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dinsdag 24 juni 2014

A personal view on the Fairy Tale Style

This article depicts my personal view on the so-called Fairy Tale Style put forward by Walter Pall in his article http://walter-pall-bonsai.blogspot.be/2014/02/the-fairy-tale-bonsai-style.html. He concludes by expressing his hope to start a discussion about the idea/topic.

When referring to this article, please take the copyright into account (refer by using the full weblink). This post is in no way meant to deliberately and personally harm anyone. I took the liberty to accept Walter's invitation for discussion and give you, as a reader, an insight into my personal beliefs and views about the idea.

All phrases marked in brown below, are (exact) highlights from Walters article (source mentioned above).

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Let's start by saying I have great respect for Walter, as an obvious bonsai talent and experienced master. Still this should not keep me from being critical, and expressing my own views. The greatest reasoners and philosophers didn't actually always 'produce' a whole lot but thougts, and yet still had something to say. And being anti-establishment and anti-mainstream, controversial?, critical, witty, is also something Walter is famous for by the way so why not address the matter the same way. I now carry the burden to explain myself, by citing the most relevant pieces (for me) of Walters idea of a Fairy Tale Style. Open for discussions as he puts it.

When the International Bonsai Academy was at Sebastijan Sandev's place in summer of 2o13 Sebastijan and I noticed that our ideas about styling some trees were so far away from standard bonsai that we better call it something else.

So, the idea is to genuinely create a new kind of category/style, that can be referred to. However it remains unclear what falls under this category: ugly, grotesque, mighty, spooky, monstrous but warm and friendly, is a (personal) belief, an expression of emotion. I find that to be a big problem if not impossible to solve, if you want to create a new 'style', and be able to refer to it. This is a big difference with the other existing styles, and I'm not saying I'm a fan of the conventional rules at all.


How does one go about creating tree in the FTS? First the material is most important. It does not make sense in general to force whatever form and style one is determined to create onto any piece of material....further..But the 'impossible' material, the monstrous collected tree which has so many options but not a single 'good' one, the last dog, they can well be good material for the FTS.


This, I find, is a bit troubling to me personally. Not the text, more the issue. If the 'material' is most important, if your chances are 'best' with monstrous collected trees, what does this mean? Huge, collected, monstrous. How can this be anything else than a very old tree, or very weathered tree of impressive size/dimensions. In mainly harsh natural environments I assume because nowhere else you will find what is being described here. If you really want an impressive tree you need to go collect and make nature's fairies your own little private property? It says 'you cannot 'force' this onto a piece of material which you would want to create in FTS'. So I can't help but interprete and come to the conclusion that we must find pristine, delicate and specific environments that define the harsh growing conditions or house a special vegetation. Please show me where else (slopes, mountains, authentic natural scenery with environmental-historic value, desolate areas like coastlines etc) you would find such promising 'material'. I'm in Europe, believe me not much 'badland' is left here, where one can 'harvest' such trees without any moral/ethic concerns. Private property or not, the point is not who owns the land. The few relics one should find in old backyards, hedges... left beside, that would be a minority anyway. 

So, here I'm told to break my ethical code of conduct (see tab no-digging zone on my blog). I am surprised the bonsai scene most of the time deliberately and consequently avoids this matter. Many internet posts that tell the story about a beautiful trip to nature, backpacking, a very tiring trip with pick axes, friendship, long walks, very hard terrain, etc. Or entire how to's and tutorials (e.g. http://www.phoenixbonsai.com/Notes/Collecting.pdf) that only prove to me the big bonsai scene really is clueless, and in denial. Quite an achievement to go hunt nature, stamp it 'my property', then present it as very hard work, or put it in a personal stock maybe get it sold at sky rocketing prices, labelled 'established high quality yamadori'. In times of crisis the last thing I hope is that Wall Street would invade and destroy bonsailand too. Great enrichment for all, big achievement. I think sweat doesn't count here. Imagine all the trees that were hunted (collected) like that, on one big pile. Would you shed a tear, or feel nothing, exept I want one? So, I have a have a lot of respect for a humble amateur that achieves a 'reasonable' bonsai (lets say classically styled) from seedgrown material, than the 5000 dollar hunted yamadori, permit or no permit.

Western bonsai is in a crisis on this part I think. We hurry to try and excell so much, sure we can do better, sure lets prove to the world we're evolved and bring new insights. It is like we cannot stand that we were not the first to invent bonsai, and therefore there is a gap in 'amount' of high quality trees. And how do we try? Not by trusting we are building our own great centuries old (horti)culture around it but by western hurrying, and robbing nature fastforward so we have enough old yamadori that can quickly flood the scene and thus prove we have rapidly evolved. We have not evolved on the horticultural part, we are not better. Why not simply accept the gap, walk our own pace and maybe create a unique path along our way. Walter certainly allready showed this is possible. There are very interesting own western insights into bonsai, own tree species, all that is where our unique contribution lies. Let's Gardendori, Hedgeadori a bit more, in stead of thinking 'yamadori' plucked from ancient japanese bonsaiculture is the walhalla. Besides that, Japan is a country that can be called controversial (to say the least) about its policy towards some environmental issues.
But, sadly this message is not really heard. Still a big part of the internet bonsai scene doesnt seem to be bothered by the issue at all or does not ask this question. Well, I am, and I've been called a green gestapo for it. So be it.


There must be something in this chaotic tree that you see which makes some sense. But sense in a fairy tale way and not in a bonsai way


Yes, this makes sense, offcourse it does. But this also applies with any other tree that you want to 'bonsai', classically styled or not. Again, this is about the emotion, the personal approach, since the article itself shows it is not possible to set standards for this. Conclusion, this cant be called a style or characteristic of a style. For example, one person might find his impressive (lets say monstrous and spooky) nebari FTS, his neighbour might think its too small/common a nebari to be called FTS in the first place. By definition you need a set of either rules, either standards, either characteristics, if you want to call it a style and refer to it. All these must be able to be measured in any one way. Exactly that is what is missing, no? I hear what you're shouting now 'thats just it, breaking rules'. But an "anything-goes-style" is a non existing style, thats just common sense and logic speaking, science or maths. So to me, this is again proof that we are talking more about an emotion than a style. A personal emotion as the fruit of a close bonsai friendship, nothing wrong with that.

What's the difference between the FTS and the naturalistic Style? First let's see what they have in common. Both are controversial. This is a given if something threatens the bonsai establishment. 

This means that the Fairy Tale Style is not just allready here, it is also controversial. And, controversial is a given thing if it threatens the bonsai establishment. I've allready shown the FTS idea lacks major elements to be called a 'style'. At best I think it could be seen as a free interpretation of Walter's own so called 'naturalistic style', which makes much more sense to me as a style (read up on Walters website about this). Freestyle maybe, like jazz. If 9,9 out of 10 times you need a monstrous collected tree (see above) and you can not deliberately create (style) it from other material, well are we not talking about naturalistic, or perhaps realistic? natural(istic) realism?

This all is in the very beginning and there will be many more examples. This is only to start the discussions

I applaude the unique way with which Walter can address matters and tries to discuss or open topics that others dont address, but on this one nature has the copyright on the fairytale, Sorry for the believers of the FTS (who are free to keep believing). Offcourse I agree bonsai is much more than being set in your ways about what bonsai is or should be. This is not the point. Walter Pall can be called the Lutherian of bonsai (and he's from Germany, like Martin Luther was) but lets not reform just to reform.

Now, to convince the readers of this article that I'm not picking or attacking the person of WP, I'll add some more info and put some research, sources and facts behind it.

1. There is nothing 'really' new about the fascination of the grotesque, the ugly as 'beauty' in true nature of things. In late midieval France (early 16th) there was a man called Fran├žois Rabelais. His literary works are famous around the world (Gargantua, Pantagruel...). He was a scolared man but also a man of the people, having experienced the true life of ordinary people, the social life in real daily life, as opposed to an academic truth about mainly literary things. He noticed there was this duality and wanted to incorporate it in his own works. Using dialect, metaphores, ugly grotesque words and phrases to emphasise that this duality deliberately gets denied. Pretty Ugliness. In the 1940ies a famous Russian philosopher and literal critic called Michael Bachtin published his (famous) study 'Rabelais and his world'. In this study the term 'grotesque realism' is put forward. Offcourse I do not pretend WP knows about Rabelais or 'stole' Bachtin's idea, I merely want to say... whats new? In art, maybe a more recognizable example of beautiful ugliness and grotesque (certainly in Europe well known) is the works of the painter 'Pieter Brueghel de oude'. If this is not an epiphany of grotesque, and natural (human), I don't know what is.

2. The depicted fairy tale drawings of trees, forests, that are referred to, show the history of how we understood and approached nature in the past. Its a romantic view that still lives on in what we still call fairytales, childrens stories etc. In fact, for many tribes, civilizations in the past, nature, forests, trees were the gods of men. In nature is god (and the devil) alltogether. In times when we used to live by the rules of nature. It was sacred because nature provided for us, but not without any effort. Use but not abuse, be careful not to destroy what gives us life. In ancient times a forest was full of danger for men, cracking branches felt down on our heads during storm, mushrooms could poison us (we had no real understanding), lots of weird noises at night, wolves, bears, owls, you name it. All that made trees, forests holy things, spooky and mystical too, dangerous sometimes. What better way to protect it, than avoid it unless you need it for survival, or take care not to destroy by taking too much, or else evil forest gods will get you. Anyway what we see in whats now left in fairytales, is a romantisized view with a specific historic background behind it. Nature is beautiful, ugly spooky, friendle. But if you take into account that over the last good century science and reason has also come along, in our understanding of nature. We can see the true nature behind nature. Different ecosystems, old trees next to young trees, the natural chains and processes in forests, etc. The monstrous, ugly, spooky old tree suddenly is something that is just there and can be explained. The emotion is not gone, but the understanding has come. So, do we need fairytale bonsai style to express our love for nature, allbeit a specific example of nature. Or do we accept that nature is very diverse, and a fairy tale bonsai would only be a specific (mainly western) view, by definition it would ignore the fact that in many other parts of the world the fairy tale approach like we know it in europe about trees and forests, does not exist (or not at all in the same way).

3. Still a bit more about the statement of 'collecting' in Walters definition or view. Unfortunately in my opinion, this collecting of such a relic of a tree seems to be stated as a prerequisite almost. I long for a really new message, style, or statement where this issue is not ignored for once. Yes, I see many of these type of trees pop up over the last few years. The collected oriental hornbeams have become very popular it seems, coming from a specific and harsh natural environment. Collected, with heavy tools, elas the ethics and concern for nature seems to be subordinates to collecting greed. This is a bold statement, but I challenge anyone on any big forum to state you have problems with collecting in the wilderness (not the usual rural areas, no in mainly delicate and specific antural environments . I more than once tried it, resulting in the same bashing. At long last the individually felt 'need' or 'greed' always won in those discussions. Yes, yamadori, the holy grail, blinded. What's so fairytale about that?

4. I have difficulty believing that the idea of FTS would be a need felt by many, for teaching purposes, for bringing (western) bonsai a step further. I leave apart the fact that it is obviously appealing to our emotions, that is what nature does. Nor was it, according to me, seriously meant to worship the beauty of nature, or to promote respect for nature, on the contrary we need monstrous collected trees. Furthermore, I think there is not much ‘styling’ in the not-styled living artefact you dug out of the ground in a natural environment. There is merely the aspect of techniques used for ‘maintenance’ of such a tree. And yes, you can try to style into this invented Fairy Tale style, but how do you style something that is called magical again? Would not almost all styling resemble a certain fairytale and thus, be called as such? Emotion is not a style. We should not seek to explain this strong emotion by putting it into a box. For that purpose fairytales were allready invented. It is weird to call an allready invented fairytale, a fairytale.

So I would like to say to Walter, and all the believers of FTS that it's also worth its while to read up on Rabelais, and Bachtin and find what you're probably looking for, and why. Maybe the aha-erlebniss is right there. Understand first, then appreciate, dont hunt it. Grotesque Realism! Grotesque Naturalism even! Nature has its own grotesque artstyle. Now, do I want that to replace the Fairy Tale Thing? Hell no. Let it be, and lets enjoy the emotions we can still feel when in contact with nature. In a reformed/liberated bonsai scene.

Thats all folks

maandag 23 juni 2014

Groendak + Bijen/Vlinder/Insectenhotel

Even tussendoor, foto van ons recent (zelf geïnstalleerde) extensief groendak op de buitenberging, en het nog in opmaak zijnde 'hotel' voor solitaire bijen, vlinders, insecten allerhande. Ik heb er ook een plat dakje opgemaakt waar direct ook een mini groendak annex kruidendakje op kan. Het hotel komt dan in een zonnig hoekje van de tuin te staan; de palen zeker 50cm diep.